Earlier this week, the government announced an end to all covid-19 restrictions in England. This means that from 24 February 2022 there is no longer a legal requirement to self-isolate after a positive covid test, whether the person is symptomatic or not. Routine contact tracing and self-isolation payments for those on low incomes have also come to an end. From 1 April, covid testing in the community will be extremely limited, and free lateral flow tests will not be available.
Here, we look at what the possible implications are for employers.
Do the changes mean that employees with covid-19 will be able to attend work?
Yes, there is no legal requirement to self-isolate so an employee who has covid-19 will be able to attend the workplace. As community testing will end on 1 April, it will not be possible to know if someone has covid-19 unless they pay for a test from a private provider or are ill enough to require medical treatment. The government has said that it is advising anyone who is symptomatic or believes they have covid-19 to self-isolate for at least five days, but this is completely voluntary. It seems likely that only those who can work from home or who can afford not to be paid for up to five days, will comply.
Can I force employees to remain at home?
Any employee with an infectious disease should not be in the workplace and should be off sick in the usual way. However, if an employee does not have any symptoms but believes or knows that they have covid-19 they may not want to remain at home on statutory sick pay (SSP). Organisations will not be able to force employees to self-isolate but could consider offering full pay for those that test positive if they wish to encourage them to remain away from the workplace and not infect colleagues. Alternatively, employers could permit them to work from home for that period where possible.
Do I have health and safety obligations to my staff, customers etc not to let someone that has covid-19 attend work?
From 1 April, the health and safety requirement for every employer to expressly consider covid-19 in their risk assessments will be removed. However, employers do still have to take steps that are reasonable in protecting the health and safety of their staff and should in particular consider the needs of any clinically vulnerable workers or those with disabilities as these restrictions are lifted.
The provision of free lateral flow tests is ending but businesses may want to explore buying testing kits to give to staff so they are able to check if they have covid-19, particularly if they are symptomatic. Employers will need to strike a balance between living with covid-19 but at the same time ensuring the safety of their staff to the extent
reasonably possible. Good practices such as enhanced hand hygiene, the regular cleaning of surfaces, availability of sanitizers/desk wipes, the option to wear face masks and so on may also help reassure staff that the workplace is safe.
Can we introduce a policy that if anyone attends work knowing they have covid-19 they may be disciplined?
Yes, you could introduce such a policy - and it would probably be a reasonable management instruction. It could even cover asymptomatic employees. However, its effectiveness will rely on employees voluntarily disclosing whether they have covid-19 and, without the widespread availability of free testing, they may not know themselves whether they have covid-19. A policy like this may work better if accompanied by the provision of testing kits from the employer. The business should consider whether it would offer full pay, otherwise the employee may only be eligible for statutory sick pay from day four of their absence. The ‘day one’ right to statutory sick pay no longer applies. This means that the first three waiting days are unpaid, in the usual way.
What about the SSP rebate scheme?
The SSP rebate scheme will close on 17 March 2022 and employers will no longer be able to claim back SSP for their employees’ covid-19 related absences or self-isolation that occur after 17 March 2022. Employers have until 24 March 2022 to submit any new claims for absence periods up to 17 March 2022 or amend claims already submitted. We are ready to support your business in these challenging times. Please get in touch with your usual 3CS contact for more information.